There is huge economic potential in harnessing the enabling three-dimensional (3D) printing technology in product manufacturing.
Associate Professor David Leung, a University of Canterbury researcher has won Government funding to explore the potential for 3D printing live plant cells (a process known as bio-printing) to create synthetic wood. He is working on creating a new, sustainable industry for synthetic wood manufacturing through the 3D bio-printing of live plant cells, a venture which, if successful, could vastly reduce the need to chop down trees.
Although challenging, there is potential to use live cells as an advanced manufacturing material in a yet-to-be invented, new industry.
The principle of 3D printing live plant cells (bio-printing) has recently been demonstrated with live green algal cells. It is possible that other types of plant cells, such as the wood-forming cells of eucalyptus trees, could be used as bio-printing materials. Hence, it is a potential, socially acceptable opportunity for sustainable economic development derived from native forests.
The objective of this project is to manufacture a wood product (a non-living 3D structure) without the need for the destructive harvesting of trees.
Live eucalyptus tree cells will be prepared specifically for bio-printing. They will be physiologically primed in a 3D structure in the biotech lab at the University of Canterbury (without any genetic modification) to be capable of responding to the appropriate triggers for transformation into a principal wood cell called a tracheid elements cell.
The changes in the cells will be studied in relation to the characteristic morphological features and chemical properties of tracheid elements cells using various microscopic, histochemical staining and fluorescence techniques.
If successful this research would be among the most significant scientific advances towards the realisation of the full potential of 3D printing. The manufacturing sector would have a new, sustainable and advanced biomaterial for developing niche products in a New Zealand context.